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Wait a minute…I’m still in Japan, right?
I scan the scenery surrounding me- it’s all sun, sand and sea.
This looks nothing like what I saw on my first trip to Japan a year earlier. Where were the castles, the temples, the shrines, the forests?
Instead, here I am, standing at the edge of the Tottori Sand Dunes, the largest sand dunes in Japan.
And I am pleasantly surprised!
Visiting the Tottori Sand Dunes (Tottori Sakyu)
The Tottori Sand Dunes were one of the first places I visited during my 3 days in Tottori prefecture. By the end of my trip, they remained the most unique landscape I saw.
I did not expect to find sand dunes in Japan. I don’t know why, after all it is an island.
The scenery at the Tottori Sand Dunes definitely clashes with many preconceived notions about Japan, and that is what I loved so much about it. It’s fun to explore the unexpected!
My time at the dunes was spent simply walking, even though there are plenty of sporty activities you can take part in. If I ever go back, I’d like to try sand boarding, paragliding or even hang gliding.
The first area of the dunes I visited was the eastern part, known for being a great location for viewing wind ripples. Sure enough, I found plenty of these mesmerizing ripples, undisturbed by visitors who mainly hang out on the biggest dune.
The patterns were so pretty I almost didn’t want to walk on them! I knew though that the wind whipping off the Sea of Japan would soon shape them again, erasing my footprints as though I hadn’t been there at all.
After viewing the wind ripples, I walked a short distance west to the tallest dune. Called Umanose (horse back), this is a great spot for reveling in the coastal views since the sand is piled about 48 m high.
Turning your back to the sea, you get a great perspective of the vastness of the Tottori Sand Dunes. The dunes stretch for 16 km east to west, and 2 km north to south. Much too big to explore it all, especially on a day when it’s 33°C!
From Umanose, I walked down to the spot where an oasis forms in the rainy season. Along the way I even found more wind ripples!
At the bottom of the dune there are some patches of grass and other plants, even a few flowers. It was nice to see a little colour interspersed with all the tan sand.
By this point, I was really hot and sweaty so I started to head back east towards the camel-riding stand. Yes, you can even ride a camel here. Along the way I passed a small dune that looked like it had black sand in it. Turns out, it was actually volcanic ash from Mt. Daisen!
As I trekked across the last stretch of sand, I was looking forward to getting out of the sun and into the Tottori Sand Museum. If you think the sand is impressive now, wait until you see what can be sculpted from it!
Final Thoughts About the Tottori Sand Dunes
Even though all I did was walk around, I still very much enjoyed visiting the Tottori Sand Dunes. Living in the prairies of Alberta, this is a type of landscape I haven’t got to experience very often. To see it in Japan, of all places, was really exciting to me.
I loved the views, and especially the cool breeze, from the top of the largest dune. Standing there it was interesting to think about how the dunes are constantly changing, winds and tides continuing to shape this landscape that formed over 30,000 years.
It was a little slow going, and tiring, walking across the fine sand but certainly a worthwhile experience if you’re visiting Tottori.
Oh, and I’m still finding sand in my socks, a few washes later!
More Photos of the Tottori Sand Dunes
Here are a few more pictures of the Tottori Sand Dunes I took during my visit.
Tips for Visiting the Tottori Sand Dunes
Location: The Tottori Sand Dunes are not far from Tottori City, in the Tottori Prefecture of Japan. The dunes are part of the San’in Kaigan Geopark.
Getting there: The Tottori Sand Dunes are about a 20 minute taxi ride from Tottori Station. Look into signing up for the 2000 yen tourist taxi at the station to save some money.
- You can also take a city bus from Tottori Station. Catch one bound for Tottori Sakyu and get off at the last stop. The bus ride takes 20 minutes.
Admission: The sand dunes are free to enter but there is a parking fee of 500 yen per day. Confirm current parking rates here.
Tottori Sand Dunes Visitor Centre: The visitor centre has a mini theatre and some exhibits about the sand dunes so you can learn more about them. The visitor centre can be visited free of charge and is open daily from 9:00 am- 5:00 pm. Confirm current hours here.
Activities: Paragliding, hang gliding and sand boarding can be arranged through local companies in advance of your visit.
- The Sand Museum is across the street from the dunes, a short walk from the east entrance.
Information was updated September 2022, but can change without notice. Please confirm directly with service providers.
Accommodations in Tottori City
For your convenience, here is a list of hotels in Tottori City. Please consider booking your Tottori City accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
I’d like to thank the Tottori Prefectural Government Tourism and Exchange Bureau for hosting me in order to bring you this story. As always, I speak only the truth and hosts have no editorial influence on articles.